Design at LendUp
From 2015 to 2018 I worked at LendUp, a startup that aimed to provide loans and credit cards to people without good credit. My responsibilites varied broadly, from design and research, to product and project management, engineering, and anything else necessary to meet quarterly KPIs.
As a designer, I defined the MVP experience for credit cards and secured cards, oversaw their evolution as we found product/market fit, and served as subject matter expert while other talented designers took ownership over core features. As de facto research lead, I faciliated more than 40 research projects across the company.
Example 1: Using Design & Research to Build a Differentiated Credit Card
In early 2015 LendUp incubated its first credit card. I was hired to help define our differentiation strategy. While I can’t discuss the strategy in detail, I can say we started by collaborating with GV, one of our primary investors, to run a design sprint.
Our first sprint was a failure. None of our initial ideas reasonated, forcing us to re-evaluate our implicit assumptions. We reflected on feedback from particpants, regrouped, and ran two additional sprints internally, followed by several more rounds of design and testing. The insights we uncovered guided the product evolution for several years.
One example: Bay Area tech workers tend to take liberal access to credit for granted; however, this is not true for the more than 50% of Americans with credit scores that are considered “subprime,” or below 620. For these people credit is not always available. When it is, limits are often as low as a few hundred dollars. Their stories are those of watching every penny and using every trick they can think of to pay for life’s basic necessities. When it comes to credit, they don’t ask “what is my balance?” but rather “can I pay for this?” and “do I need to make a payment right now?”
We designed our servicing experience to answer these questions directly, honestly, and respectfully. In particular, we chose to emphasize how much was “available to spend” over the industry standard “current balance.” We did this because our customers often carried high balances. They consistently told us, in round after round of research, that emphasizing how much they owed only made stressful financial situations that much worse. Instead, we focused on contextual education and other, more humane interventions.
Example 2: Mitigating Compliance Risk Through Design-led Product Management
Financial services companies, including #fintech startups, are regulated nationally and the state level. One of the most important concepts for designers in this space is UDAAP – unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices – which essentially mandates common sense design and prohibits the use of dark patterns.
As LendUp grew to offer more products to more people in more states, I identified a potential UDAAP issue with our homepage. The issue did not have any obvious product owner, so I worked with legal and compliance to assess risk for management. I worked with relevant product managers and analysts to understand the underlying product complexity. I designed, presented for review, and largely built a solution to mitigate the risk. Throughout the process I coordinated with engineering to manage dependencies, growth to ensure key metrics were not affected, and customer service to minimize support volume.
The difference was subtle, replacing static, one-size-fits all terms and prices with dynamic, state-specific information. This approach required extensive testing to ensure it did not impact conversion, but it allowed us to avoid adding asterisks and legal disclaimers, which we knew from research would almost certainly erode trust.